When you break it down, it’s just a game. Two teams, each with five players. Two hoops and one ball. Just a game.
But for some reason, if those players don jerseys in a particular shade of blue, it becomes so much more. Every UNC alumni, student, and fan knows there is something indescribably special about Carolina basketball.
There’s the fans — packed inside the Dean E. Smith Center whether the opponent is a school they have never even heard of, or those terrible devils from down the road willing to fight tooth and nail to keep the Tar Heels from victory.
There’s the legacy — more than a hundred years of tradition, excellence and pride. When the greatest player in the history of basketball and dozens of other prestigious players wore that same Carolina blue jersey, there is just something extra special about each dribble.
And when it’s Carolina there is even more — preseason hype, glorification of those few select athletes, intense analysis, and over-the-top coverage (remember Wrist Watch 2012?)
With all of that considered, Carolina basketball becomes so much more than a game. And before the start of the 2011-2012 season, it somehow evolved into even more for me.
When I first began attending Carolina in the fall of 2009, I already had a particular passion and enthusiasm for sports. In high school, I won the “Most School Spirit” senior superlative for my enthusiastic cheering at games, as well as my outlandish spirit week costumes. I knew that passion for the game would carry over to Carolina. Although I didn’t always admit it, school spirit was a deciding factor in picking where I would spend the next four years.
This passion for the game was definitely influenced by my family. My mother and grandmother were avid sports fans. When I decided I wanted to go into journalism at age 13, they began their efforts to push me to be a sports journalist (naturally, as a rebellious teen, I resisted).
Their passion and enthusiasm only increased as they too began cheering with me for Carolina. That simple game — just a ball and two hoops — somehow nestled its way deep into the folds of our relationships. At each game I attended in the Dean E. Smith Center, I sent pictures of where I was sitting, just in case my mom might catch a glimpse of me on the television, or maybe just so that I could feel she was watching the game with me. Basketball was mentioned quite often in our conversations, especially when I was home for break and could give a detailed analysis of the team. My mother, whose favorite player was Harrison Barnes, decided that Kendall Marshall would be her future son-in-law. Carolina basketball started growing into something more for me — a manifestation of my relationship with my mother.
On October 1, 2011, less than two weeks before Late Night with Roy and the official start of the season, my mom called me in need of my Carolina-Duke statistics. My uncle, an avid Duke fan from Seattle, was in town and my mother, who had been a Tar Heel fan since before I began attending the university in 2009, needed some amo. She knew that I would be able to give the most accurate statistics about the rivalry, as long as they were in Carolina’s favor.Who led the all-time series? Who would have the best freshman class? Who has more national championships? There was no clear winner of the argument and it ended, as most battles between Carolina and Duke fans do, with bets placed on the upcoming season.
Two days later, on the following Monday, I had a run-in with Harrison Barnes at the Ernie Williamson Athletics Center. Although our extremely brief discussion (comparing stairs and elevators) would have been dull for anyone else, I knew my mother would be ecstatic to hear about my “brush with fame”. I sent her text telling her what had happened, to which she responded with a heart.
Those were the last two times I spoke two my mother. And that’s when something that started as a game and nestled its way into a relationship, became more than I could have imagined.
On Friday, October 14, as the Dean Dome filled with fans eager for the most promising Tar Heel season in years, I was 1600 miles away watching my brother’s high school football game. I couldn’t help and think about if things had been different and what my mom and I would be talking about as I watched the Heels dance and perform skits.
Since then, my uncle from Seattle switched allegiances because cheering for Carolina was now like cheering for my mom. I still send pictures to my grandmother at each game, and the simple sport is still important to our relationship. But the game is different for me — a memento of the times I spent with my mom and a reminder to keep fighting.
This is what makes sports so captivating. When you look closely, they narrate a larger scheme of human nature — passion, competition, and connecting with other human beings. We cheer for the underdogs, admire players fighting adversity and keeping watching just to see what happens in the next instance. It might be just a game, but the story behind it all is what keeps us watching.